The Road to Illegitimacy

In the Iron Triangle
After you have spent some days searching for the secret of political legitimacy in Miami and West Palm Beach, you want to go further. You have witnessed the ritual on the nineteenth floor of the gleaming granite Stephen P. Clark Building in downtown Miami, where, two months after the voters spoke and a month after the Supreme Court handed down its judgment, a journalist from The Miami Herald and a man from the BDO Seidman accounting firm sit hunched over a long table, squinting for five hours each day at the perforated punch-card ballots that were intended, on November 7, to express “the will of the people.” You have plumbed the intricacies of the hushed ceremony in West Palm Beach’s pale adobe Governmental Center, where three journalists, two accountants, three Republican Party volunteers, a lawyer, and assorted hangers-on lean forward in unison to behold and record the mysteries of these punctured cardboard artifacts that were meant to confer legitimacy on our country’s leader.

After many days contemplating these strange ceremonies, you would do well to climb into your red convertible, put the radio on and the top down, and head north, and after many hours of working your way through the clotted mess of Interstate 95, past beach communities and retirement homes and golf courses and condominiums, you will turn west and enter Florida’s “iron triangle,” a land of farming and lumbering now become a land of teeming prisons and the people who guard them, and there you will find, in a red brick courthouse in Lake Butler, the formidable Babs Montpetit—or Miss Babs, as she is known, the elected supervisor of elections of Union County—and, in the flock of padlocked metal “precinct cans” gathered about her feet, Miss Babs’s blessed paper ballots.

A man in white shirt and blue-and-white pants, a prison trustee from the nearby North Florida Reception Center, lugs the battered cans forward and Miss Babs, perfectly coiffed, resplendent in gold earings and a gold twenty-dollar medallion, extracts from them sheafs of folded sheets of paper. Having spent days contemplating the recording of dimpled chads, I greet these ballots as a blessed sight; for here there is no cardboard—no punch cards; no chads, hanging, dimpled, or otherwise—and indeed no machines of any kind. Here, alone among Florida’s sixty-seven counties, there is only paper, with the printed name of each candidate and to the right of each name a printed box meant to receive, in the form of a penciled cross or check or diagonal line, the mark of the voter’s clearly stated will. And in the next few moments, as Miss Babs spreads out before me and before the Miami Herald reporter and the accountant who accompanies her and the Republican observer looming over the table ballot after ballot from Union County’s pile of 258 “no votes,” I see quite clearly the obscurities attendant on that seemingly obvious notion of a “clearly …

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